DENNIS Y.C. LIU: So I wanted to ask you, what is it about flowers that captures your imagination?
LAURA JONES: When I started painting I was working as a florist and to paint flowers seemed too obvious, but when I did paint them it just made so much sense to me.
I’ve always thought it’s very important to appreciate the natural beauty around us and the simple things in life. I think it’s in my nature to emphasise positive things through my art practice rather than paint about what worries me and upsets me about the world.
Flowers are a very elegant symbol for human emotion and human life. Everybody uses them at different stages in their life. When you work as a florist, people come in wanting flowers for weddings, funerals, simple celebrations, births. Flowers are present at all the occasions that mark our existence.
So on a personal level they’re very important to me, but within art practice and history in general they’re very symbolic as well and have been used in painting for centuries. They’re an endlessly relevant subject matter I think.
Is it something to do with the fragility of flowers and the fleeting nature of things?
Absolutely. They have a really short lifespan and I try to directly respond to that in my practice, because I paint only from life. I bring actual flowers into the studio and I respond to them as they change and wilt and paint them as they are in front of me.
To me that’s part of the whole experience of painting. Some people do it differently, but I quite enjoy that high turnover of subject matter in my space. It makes the space itself feel alive. In a way, if you can see change happening in front of you it helps you connect to time. I think artists in particular are a bit obsessed with time and how it changes and how we all move through it.
So painting flowers is a way of connecting me to the environment, to something real.
And how long does it take for you to complete a painting?
Once the flowers are in my studio they last about three to four days, and I try to complete the painting over the lifespan of the flowers. I usually do a really quick under-painting on the first day and then gradually build it up the next two days.
But it’s interesting how a space changes the way you paint as well, and also what time of year it is and what’s happening in your life.
Paintings just say so much about you that you can’t even help but show. It’s very bright and quite hot right now, so I’m painting very quickly. There’s also less shadow because of the time of year. Your paintings are like a diary or a mirror of the inside of your brain.
It’s very hard to resist that. In a way they’re very honest.
Wow, so is painting perhaps your way of keeping a diary?
I feel like if you really looked at my work there’s definitely elements that could be autobiographical, but I’m certainly not making paintings about me. I think it’s important to make something that’s universal and relate my experiences to something that everyone can respond to.
Something that I’ve been thinking about is how painting is a singular activity that requires focus on one thing for an extended period of time. What are your thoughts on what it means to paint in the age of social media and smartphones?
I think it’s interesting. I was sitting around with my studio mates the other day and we were flicking through a book of still life paintings from the Netherlands from the 1700s, and you know, they’re so beautifully and carefully painted. People had a lot of time back then.
In a way, we kind of throw paint around now. We can’t even help it, but it reflects just how much more we have to squeeze into our lives and how our focus can be so disrupted by everything. But in a way that’s a really beautiful thing as well because painting is very honest, so the space that we create work in, the time that we live in, who we are and how we’ve grown up, the people around us, the country we happen to be born in, it all comes through. The paint doesn’t lie.
So in that sense I think it’s really important to keep painting. It’s more relevant than ever because it tells all those stories without you even having to try. I don’t have to make a painting about Facebook in order to be of this time. I am of this time. And like everybody else, I get distracted, and so my paintings are made within that context.